Friday, 9 May 2003

Kinshasa (Fides Service) – Violent fighting is reported in Bunia, in the Ituri region in north east Democratic Republic of Congo. The city has been attacked by thousands of Lendu warriors armed with fire, spears and machetes. Taking advantage of the climate of terror, during the night of 6 May unidentified persons killed Father Raphael Ngona in his room at the presbytery. A month ago Father Ngona denounced a massacre of Hema civilians, adversaries of the Lendu, at Drodro about 80 km from Bunia.
The presbytery was attacked by a group of armed men who stole one or two of the parish vehicles and broke into the rooms of a religious centre. An eyewitness says that Father Ngona was chased by the men who followed him to his room where they shot him twice in the head wounding him mortally. Because of the fighting the other priests could not leave the complex and Father Ngona was buried in the parish yard.
Recently Father Ngona had received threats from Lendu extremists because of his past reports to the authorities. One of the possible motivations for the priest’s murder is in fact revenge for his denunciation of the massacre in Drodro. Another possible explanation is revenge for the death of a Lendu priest, Father Bwana Longa, killed last October when Bunia was taken by the Union of Congolese Patriots led by Thomas Lubanga, the armed wing of Hema extremism.
Local reports received by Fides Service say that people have fled Bunia en masse. The few who remain have taken shelter at the parishes and at the major seminary which is surrounded by armed men.
Ugandan troops were also present in the Bunia area until recently. Fides Service sources say that most of them have withdrawn but it would seem that their place has been taken by their Lendu allies.
In Ituri since 1999 the conflict has been between Lendu farmers and Hema semi nomad shepherds similar to the Tutsi. The conflict has caused so far tens of thousands of dead and 500,000 displaced persons. Besides these two, other local armed groups and foreign troops have been fighting since 1998. The overall number of victims is at least 3 million. LM (Fides Service 8/5/2003 EM lines 34 Words: 408)